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Asia Argento calls sexual assault claims 'false,' says Anthony Bourdain paid off accuser

Taryn Ryder
Yahoo Celebrity

Asia Argento is breaking her silence regarding claims that she sexually assaulted child actor Jimmy Bennett at age 17. In a statement to journalist Yashar Ali, the 42-year-old actress “strongly” denied Sunday’s New York Times report.

“I am deeply shocked and hurt having read the news that is absolutely false,” she says. “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”

Asia Argento, Jimmy Bennett, Anthony Bourdain. (Photos: AP)

Argento says she and Bennett, who was 7 years old when he was cast as her son in the 2004 film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, had a “friendship only.”

The Times revealed that Argento — one of the leading voices of the #MeToo movement and one of the first actresses to accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape — agreed to pay Bennett $380,000 last year. The settlement reportedly stemmed from a May 2013 incident in a Los Angeles hotel room when he claimed she performed oral sex on him before initiating intercourse. Bennett was two months past his 17th birthday at the time, while Argento was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.

Argento claims that it was the late Anthony Bourdain‘s idea to settle with Bennett, whom she says was going through “severe economic problems.” She believes Bennett saw an opportunity and took advantage of the fact that the couple was in the spotlight, publicly leading the charge against Weinstein.

“Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect,” she says in her statement.

Last November, Bennett asked for $3.5 million in damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, lost wages, assault, and battery. The two sides ultimately settled on $380,000, a number Argento doesn’t dispute.

Argento continues, “Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately, and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us. We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”

Yahoo Entertainment reached out to Richard Hofstetter — Bourdain’s longtime lawyer, who was also representing Argento at the time — for comment regarding the actress’s claim that it was Bourdain who wanted to settle but did not immediately receive a response. Neither did a spokeswoman for Bourdain’s ex-wife, Ottavia Busia, when contacted by Yahoo on Tuesday.

Argento concludes by saying the settlement and its exposure are “the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution. I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations and will assume in the short term all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues.”

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